May being the Asian Pacific American Heritage month and with this rainy, cold weather we are having in the Mid-Atlantic/Northeast Coast, one of the Asian dishes I am posting for this event is Filipino Ginataang Halo-Halo (Fruits and Root Crops in Coconut Milk; halo-halo means mixture) a snack or dessert we eat during the rainy months. In the next few days/weeks, I will be posting a few of my favorite Asian dishes.
The Philippines is supposedly the largest producers of coconuts. Coconut milk is used extensively in Filipino cuisine, specially in the Northern Island of the country, Luzon, from appetizers, main dishes, snacks/desserts with fruits, root crops, beans, meat, poultry, fish and seafood. In a particular part of Luzon Island, the Bicol region, coconut dishes are as spicy as the spiciest Thai dishes cooked with coconut milk.
Nothing goes to waste in almost every part of the coconut tree in the Philippines. The leaves are used in wrapping various kinds of snacks/desserts some with coconut milk. The outer layer of the fruit, the husk, is dried and becomes a wood floor polisher. Buko, the young coconut meat, is mostly used for desserts and few main dishes, depending on the creativity of the home cook. Shredded buko is available in the freezer section or bottled sweetened ones use for desserts (like halo halo a mixture of ingredients like sweetened fruits & beans, flavored agar-agar, purple yam pudding, leche flan, ice cream, shaved ice and milk) available in Filipino or Chinese stores in the US. Buko is more enjoyable to eat than the mature ones, and the texture is entirely different from the mature coconut meat (the ones with brown shell one sees being hammered open by a cleaver in Iron Chef America shows). Coconut milk and desiccated coconut come from the mature coconut.
Coconut water from the young coconut is a welcome treat during the peak of the hot season (about 6 months, March to August) in Manila, and a portion of the harvested coconut water is turned into a local vodka known as lambanog in the Philippines. Today, coconut water is marketed as a super-hydrating water. The best form of coconut water is the one that comes directly from the green young coconuts, not yet pasteurized, still contains the enzymes that help detoxify the body, which are available in Asian stores like Chinese, Korean, Thai and Vietnamese. If not available, check the freezer section of the store and pick up the frozen coconut water with sliced young coconut meat (available in most Asian grocery stores). By the time you get home, a few minutes nuking in the microwave, it will be ready for a most delightful thirst quencher. It comes with a straw and tiny fork to pick up the meat from the container.
Unfortunately, a whole young coconut is not available in Filipino stores probably because the coconut plantation owners in the Philippines convert the shells into charcoal, the water into lambanog or some other consumable by product. The coconut water sold in grocery stores are pasteurized or from concentrates but still contain some of the beneficial minerals.
This Ginataang Halo Halo (from root word gata or coconut milk) is a combination of fruits (saba banana, jackfruit, palm sugar), root crops (sweet potato, purple yam, taro), and small tapioca pearls cooked with coconut milk.